Monday, March 3, 2014

Cold Truth Can Be A Bear

What's happening both inside the U.S., and around the world in the Ukraine, is a bear of a situation today.

Here at home, the Eastern half of the country, from Kansas and Oklahoma to Washington, DC, and northward up the Atlantic Coast, began experiencing what is hopefully the last blast of bitter cold and snow this weekend. The predicted snowstorm in Washington, DC today already gave Congress yet another excuse for not doing anything, as the nation's capitol is almost completely shut down today. To say this weather is a bear is a serious understatement - at least from the half of the country that's had more than its fair share of winter this year.

What's happening abroad, however, is a whole different kind of bear - a Russian bear, specifically, that some journalists like Russian experts Julia Ioffe and Fred Kaplan have been expecting for some time.

In case you missed the news this past weekend, Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine, an area of the world current Russian President Vladimir Putin has never really acknowledged was its own nation. That invasion - in the wake of the Winter Olympics and just before the start of the Paralympic Winter Games - also happened in the midst of a Ukrainian uprising, which has included the ouster of their most recent corrupt President, and a revolt against the interim government by Ukrainians in the Western half of Ukraine, centered in the Crimean region.

Another way to put it might be that Russia has finally gotten into the geopolitical game Vladimir Putin has been itching to enter for years - and now, they're playing keep-away with the future of the Ukraine.

Worldwide political reactions, and those in the U.S. especially, have been so textbook typical, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones outlined many of those events Saturday morning, before most of of them had occured.

From Putin's belligerence, to Republicans demanding the U.S. do something (Anything but send troops, of course - it's an election year), to President Obama denouncing Putin's actions and calling Putin on the phone, to journalists admitting the truth that America's options to force Russia to do anything are extremely limited, Drum nailed exactly the series of events that have been happening this weekend.

What Drum said of course, could be summed up simply: There's nothing truly unexpected about these circumstances. Indeed, as we already mentioned, Julia Ioffe notes that most of the West should have seen this coming long ago. Vladimir Putin has always been pessimistic, opportunistic, and hungry to return Russia effectively to the size, scope, and nature it was during the heyday of the Soviet Union.

As Sam Tannenhaus and others wrote about over the weekend, many in the political media are once again referring to the Cold War and thinking of this latest action as a whole new chapter in the long standoff between Moscow and Washington, DC. As Tannenhaus also makes clear, however, thinking of this new conflict in that framework - and indeed thinking of the original Cold War through that prism - is a mistake.

The Ukrainian conflict going on now is no more a controlled proxy war between the West and Russia than Syria is. Like Syria, the people of the Ukraine have complex loyalties, generated over many, many hundreds of years, and no one truly knows what differing groups of nominally Ukrainian people will do.

While the Russian bear can and will play keep-away with the future of Ukranians for the immediate future, the cold, messy, ugly truth is that - regardless of what either Russia or the U.S. does - Ukrainians can and will make their own decisions as to their ultimate future.

Sometimes the bear bites first - but someday, likely soon, Ukrainians WILL bite back. To think all Ukrainians will simply side with Russia at the threat of Russia's military is to ignore everything that has happened in that region over the last thirty years.